Historically, machine builders all had one common challenge: Once a machine is delivered to an end user, it can be difficult to determine how it is being used and whether or not it is performing to expectations. Traditionally, machine performance has been measured by “fire drill” when something goes terribly wrong or during regularly scheduled maintenance visits. Remote monitoring technologies have changed all of this. Machine operators are leveraging existing technological tools, including the Cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) to differentiate their offerings and work closely with their customers to improve overall machine performance.
Using technology to create smart machines, builders can tell exactly how a machine is being utilized, bringing builders and end users together to solve challenges in real time.
In this Q&A with Axel Rodriguez, product manager at Rockwell Automation, he explains how advanced Cloud computing and the IoT are being used to solve OEM and operator issues, as well as address network security concerns. Rodriguez will speak on this topic at the upcoming Pack Expo 2016 show in Chicago, which will be held November 6-9.
What is remote monitoring and how does it work?
Rodriguez: At its most basic, conventional remote monitoring is more about remote access—similar to a regular service visit. However, Cloud technology and the IoT have enabled continuous performance monitoring as well as back-end services such as analytics and preventive maintenance that allow builders to identify problems before they occur.
The Cloud allows access to information from anywhere, but until that data is actionable, it has little value. Instead of simply looking at data, we can now transform it into usable information that provides real return on investment.
What are some new innovations in remote monitoring?
Rodriguez: Smart machine technology now allows solutions with pre-set dashboards that feature all relevant monitoring information. With pre-defined data structures, cloud connections and applications, data can be accessible from anywhere almost instantaneously. For example, a smart machine can expose a timeline of all the states it has been in over the last several months. By matching this data with other data, we can see what the top events are by duration or counter that have been generating states.
This gives builders an in-depth look at how a specific machine has been operating and compares it to the performance of other machines. Using custom algorithms, this provides a deeper understanding of machine use and generates machine-specific intelligence usable in many discreet machine operations, such as packaging, assembly and material handling.
Are there any Cloud technology security concerns operators should be aware of?
Rodriguez: With advances in remote automation come the potential for increased vulnerability to data theft and hacking. The latest network security technology enables a secure connection between machines and devices used to access information remotely. For example, by ensuring no open ports to inbound connections, anything coming in arrives under strict control. Working with the right partner can make all the difference.
What impact will the use of Cloud technology and the IoT have on conventional remote monitoring?
Rodriguez: This platform is truly transformative. While the technology we’re talking about has been around for years, the IoT has enabled the concept of smart machines and the Cloud has helped to unlock the power of the information from those machines.
Machine builders can now access readily available information to improve the capability of their machines and deliver on their full potential. For end users, these machines provide access to real-time, multi-layered performance information that can help them to make the most from their investment.